Mass evacuations prompted by Southern California wildfire outbreak
Weeks after the tragic wildfires that burned the Napa Valley and parts of Santa Rosa, the California wildfire season refuses to relent. This week Southern California has seen the outbreak of major fires. As of Wednesday, the blazes are not contained. Mass evacuations are in effect throughout parts of Southern California. Firefighters are battling structure by structure to fend off the flames; Over 180 buildings have already been lost, including the Vista Del Mar Hospital.
Fueling the fires are a combination of Santa Ana winds, and substantial amounts of dry brush. In the wake of a very dry summer, the ‘superbloom’ experienced in California ultimately provided tinder waiting for the spark.
Veteran firefighters describe conditions in Ventura county as the worst ever seen. Wind gusts more than 70 mph are pushing the fire faster than firebreaks can be made. This has had the effect of pushing what is now called the Thomas Fire into the city of Ventura at frightening speeds. In 19 hours, the fire consumed over 50,000 acres of lands, over 78 square miles by Tuesday afternoon. Tens of thousands of residents are being forced to evacuate. As of Wednesday, no progress on containment has been made.
California wildfire conditions to remain heightened all week
The weather forecast in California is grim. Meteorologists predict Santa Ana winds to peak on Thursday, and there is little hope for relief before that. There is no current expectation for containment, and Cal Fire officials warn that more fires could break out.
The Thomas Fire is only one of the fires burning up Southern California. Weather conditions have sparked multiple blazes across the affected region.
Los Angeles County is facing the Creek Fire. Initially reported at the Little Tujunga Canyon Road, the fire grew to over 11,000 acres on Tuesday. San Fernando Valley residents are now facing potential mandatory evacuation. The Rye Fire in Santa Clarita is prompting more mass evacuations, claiming over a thousand acres as of Tuesday night. And beyond these fires there are more being reported, with the potential for more fires to start ever present.
Challenging conditions preventing containment
The California wildfire season is nothing new to residents of the state. However, a combination of weather and timing have turned 2017 into one of the worst seasons on record.
Part of the challenges involve the time of day. The Thomas Fire burned hot and fast in the middle of the night, and inevitably power was cut to vast parts of Ventura. This made it difficult for residents to evacuate, and for firefighters to safely move to where they needed to be.
Santa Ana winds promise to be a factor for much of the week, and fire department officials are warning Californians to expect more fires. The high winds are blowing embers far, which could potentially ignite other patches of dry brush or dead trees beyond current fire perimeters. Officials are predicting more fires to break out, and firefighting services in the region are already at their limits.
Is prevention possible?
Unfortunately, there is no absolute solution that can prevent wildfires of all scales. Even if we all followed all the safety tips from Smokey the Bear, there are simply too many factors outside of our control. The reality is that California’s weather patterns make wildfires a regular possibility. The early year rains encourage growth, but that growth can also be a curse. The dry heat of Summer can turn vast parts of the state into kindling, waiting for the right spark.
There are other factors to consider, human factors in particular. Statistics show that up to 90 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are due to human intervention. Campfires and cigarettes alike have caused massive fires, simply because people did not follow basic precautions. Even something like crashing a dirt bike into dry brush can start a massive fire.
However, that doesn’t mean prevention or mitigation aren’t possible. There are some things a home owner or a land owner can to minimize fire risk on their property.
By being mindful of your property, you also potentially aid firefighting efforts in the future if the worst comes to pass. If you’re in a region that faces the threat of wildfires on a regular basis, preparation is your greatest tool, before and during a fire. The clearing of dry brush whenever possible can make a location safer.
Arborist inspections of trees is a way to identify a risk before it becomes a serious threat. Diseased trees and dead trees can be potential fire hazard. Some tree service companies offer prompt removal of trees using a tree masticator.
Unfortunately, prevention isn’t a guarantee against the Santa Ana winds, and the sparks that may start without warning. Southern California is seeing yet another example of Mother Nature’s ferocity.